Document Type


Publication Date

Winter 2007


"It is Jane Fairfax’s story rather than Emma’s, however, that exposes the grim reality of life for many women of the nineteenth century: the attractive and accomplished but penniless young woman is not rescued by a good man. She marries a man who in Austen’s other novels would have been rewarded by a mindless flirt (Lydia Bennet) or an adulteress (Maria Rushworth). Through Jane Fairfax’s story—her life-defining choice between selling herself in the marriage market or the governess trade—Austen subtly exposes the grim reality of life for many women who were handsome, clever, but not rich. Jane Fairfax, perhaps even more than the minor characters in Austen’s other five novels, provides the author the opportunity to portray “the difference of woman’s destiny” (384). By considering the focus of Jane Fairfax’s education and the grim financial as well as psychosocial reality of her future life as a governess, contrasted with her ultimate choice to marry a man who acts contrary to social norms and treats her with disrespect, Austen exposes the limitations faced by a poor woman with a genteel upbringing. Austen shows us that women’s choices are grim: they must be sold in one market or the other."


This article was originally published in Persuasions: The Jane Austen Journal Online, volume 28, issue 1, in 2007.

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